Fast-medium pacers are starting to reclaim lost ground from batsmen
Unobtrusively — for their craft, however manic its practitioners, doesn't attract as much attention as batting — the seamers have begun an unspoken rebellion.
All around the world, bowlers of fast-medium pace and greater are starting to reclaim lost ground from batsmen, cricket's glory boys.
The conditions have conspired, at least in England, South Africa, and Australia, and the seamers, like spotting that old pair of jeans in their closet that has returned to fashion, have found, to their delight, the fuller length.
India's great batsmen have, unfortunately, been on the receiving end.
Vernon Philander, Pat Cummins, Dale Steyn, Doug Bracewell, and Marchant de Lange might have found other batsmen to bother. But James Anderson, Chris Tremlett, Stuart Broad, and Tim Bresnan in England and Peter Siddle, Ben Hilfenhaus, and James Pattinson here in Australia have tormented India's finest.
Broad has been the most noticeable convert. He changed from an ineffectual, back-of-a-length enforcer to a strike-bowler who primarily bowls a full length; the over-used bouncer now enhances the menace of this full length by pushing the batsman back.
But Australia's pace attack has undergone a metamorphosis that is no less significant. Australia's bowlers aren't as obviously varied as England's. For one, there isn't a remarkably tall man among the three, like Broad or Tremlett or even Steve Finn.
But Siddle, Hilfenhaus, and Pattinson have sufficient range between them to ask differing questions of a batsman's methods; and what they do alike only adds to their efficiency.
Craig McDermott has been at the root of the transformation. When he took over as bowling coach last year, there apparently were a few snide remarks. In an age of complexity, he was seen as a simple man.
What the critics didn't see was that it was a strength, not a weakness, for coaches have nothing to teach but the essential truth.
McDermott had two primary aims: to get his wards to bowl fuller, so they could, as Sir Alec Bedser wrote, allow for the full maturation of swing and cut; to ensure high levels of fitness among the bowlers so they could do this repeatedly for long spells.
It wasn't easy at first. McDermott had to re-define a full length to a generation of Australian bowlers who had been conditioned to bowl shorter. According to reports, he requested a change to the team's video analysis parameters, furthering the “good” and “full” lengths on Cricket Australia's bowling graphics by about a metre up to the bat.
For Siddle and Pattinson, in particular, the change was marked. Having been asked to bowl a drive-denying length for Victoria, they had now to pitch it up. While the skill of swing-and-seam bowling is celebrated — and rightly so, for it's high art — the courage needed to consistently invite the drive isn't spoken about as much.
Having a captain such as Michael Clarke, who saw the possibilities of attacking bowling, and a mentor such as McDermott, who was patient but unyielding, helped. But the bowlers needed to first find the strength within to commit to the change. Even Ryan Harris, likely to replace the injured Pattinson in the third Test, found it intimidating at first; and of all Australia's bowlers, barring Hilfenhaus, his is the fullest natural length.
The results have been striking. In the two Tests against India, Hilfenhaus has 15 wickets at an average of 18 and a strike rate of 39.6, Siddle has 11 wickets at 22.54 and 36.9, and Pattinson has 11 at 23.36 and 40.9. Hilfenhaus and Siddle have added a level to their bowling; Pattinson seems a prodigy, his pace and control exceptional for a man only 21.
Hilfenhaus' change predates McDermott. After a wretched Ashes series, in which a knee injury reduced his efficiency, the 28-year-old from Tasmania went back to the basics. He found that the injury had altered his action. So he regained fitness and reclaimed his action. He was told by his state's coaches that he had become one-dimensional, a close-to the-stumps outswing bowler who was swerving it from his action, not moving it late.
Hilfenhaus worked on altering his angle at delivery so he bowled his outswinger from different places. The change in action got him to develop better wrist-work. So while the swing hasn't been arcing and dramatic, like it is in England, it has been deadly, for the movement is just enough to elude the bat's middle. He has bowled long spells and magic deliveries this series; Rahul Dravid and V.V.S Laxman, no less, have been bettered.
Siddle has produce corkers of his own, the fast break-back to Sachin Tendulkar on the second evening of the first Test, a game-changer. He has been the attack's leader, Clarke's go-to man.
But the three-man attack has worked because it has been better than the sum of its parts: an unrelenting force that builds pressure by giving little away despite the fuller length; the macho bouncers are saved for surprises and tail-enders.
Keywords: India's tour of Australia